Thursday, November 21, 2013

Commune improves sanitation and hygiene for all families

Mr. Keo Kay (right) says his family is much healthier since they started using a latrine.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2013/Hun Sovadhanak

In the remote rural village of Damnak Kantuot in Thmey commune, Preah Vihear province (in northern Cambodia)   open defecation used to be the norm and contributed to regular bouts of illness in the community, especially among children. But things improved greatly after 2011 when members of the Commune Council received a UNICEF-supported orientation on how to identify critical social service issues for attention.  After deciding that water, sanitation and hygiene would be their priority, the Commune Council made improvements using its annual government budget and the ‘social service envelope’: additional funding from UNICEF, made possible with contributions from the Australian Committee for UNICEF.

Mr. Keo Kay (48) lives in Damnak Kantuot village with his wife and six children and earns a living growing cassava and collecting and selling non-timber products from the forest. He remembers what life was like before water, sanitation and hygiene became a priority. “My children especially used to suffer from diarrhoea very often, even dysentery and scabies. I myself got malaria too,” said Mr Kay. “All this happened because we used to go to defecate in bushes just around our house.  My house was surrounded by all kinds of dirt, where germs and mosquitoes could easily grow and spread those diseases. My family, especially my children and my wife were also always in fear of wild animal attack, snake bite when in the bushes.”

Compounding these problems, annual drought not only affected rice and crop production in the village but also caused water shortages that reduced the amount available to drink, wash hands, clean, and provide for animals. This made it even more difficult for villagers to maintain good hygiene.
To address this situation, the Commune Council with UNICEF support and technical assistance from the Provincial Department of Rural Development (PDRD), educated villagers throughout Thmey commune about the importance of using safe water, practising better hygiene - including hand washing with soap - and about the negative consequences of open defecation. Water filters were provided to households headed by single mothers, low-income families; those with several children; families with children with disabilities; and primary schools. The ‘social service envelope’ assisted poorest and most vulnerable households to build or improve their latrines. PDRD also helped the commune to identify a local contractor to produce, sell and transport some of the components so that families could construct their latrines. 

Thanks to the training and the financial aid, Mr. Kay’s family started using pit latrine and recently upgraded to construct a ‘pour flush latrine.’ “Now we have a pour flush latrine with assembled roof and walls. It is much cleaner and easier to take care of than the pit one. My place is cleaner and most importantly my family is healthier,” said Mr. Kay. “Since we have the latrine we don’t get sick with diarrhoea.”

Commune Chief, Kun Hun regularly visits families in the community to find out how well they are progressing with construction of their latrines. “Water and sanitation are among the top priorities for the Commune Council and we continuously seek external technical and financial support. Since 2011 UNICEF’s Seth Koma (Child Rights) programme has supported our commune to improve water and sanitation in households, especially the most vulnerable,” said Mr. Hun.

Ms. Prim Samuoth’s daughter Cheurt Sameth enjoys a drink of water from the family’s filter.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2013/Hun Sovadhanak
The promotion of clean water and sanitation in Thmey commune has brought benefits to everyone in the community.  Having upgraded their latrines and other sanitation facilities using local, affordable low-cost materials, Ms. Prim Samuoth (40) and her family are viewed as role models. She says she learned a lot by attending awareness-raising activities in the village and now her family no longer suffers from diarrhoea, malaria or dengue fever. Not only has the family stopped defecating in the bushes, they have now cleared the area and filled in hollows around the house where mosquito larvae would grow. “[There is] no excreta for germs, nor dirty stagnant water for mosquitoes,” said Ms. Samuoth.  The family, which initially built a pit latrine in 2012, built a pour-flush latrine in January 2013. They only drink water from their filter and have a hand washing unit near the kitchen where they practice hand-washing with soap at all critical times: after coming from the latrine, before eating and before feeding their children. The family’s next goal is to install a container to catch and store rain water for household use.

Commune Chief, Kun Hun says it is due to actions like these that the commune database reflects a rise in the number of households using latrines from 1 per cent in 2011 to 65 per cent in 2013. Mr. Hun is confident that the figure will further increase. “With this pace of improved water and sanitation, Thmey commune will become an ‘open defecation free’ commune in the near future,” he said with pride.

By Hun Sovadhanak

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